The NFL likes to save the best games for the end of the season, and scheduling Bills-Chiefs in a national TV window in December was a no-brainer.
They have two of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. They have a recent history of epic games. And both teams are usually in the hunt for the Super Bowl.
But after Sunday’s game, a 20-17 Bills win, neither team is looking too super. The game was a microcosm of each team’s season – more mistakes than big plays, so much so that Patrick Mahomes finally erupted on the sideline.
The struggles of the Chiefs and Bills are where we begin the Week 14 Review:
▪ Here’s a shocker – firing former offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey wasn’t a magic fix for the Bills, now 7-6 after that crucial victory. They scored just 6 points over the final 41 minutes. Josh Allen completed just 55 percent of his passes (23 of 42), and threw another bad interception. Stefon Diggs was completely eliminated, catching just 4 of 11 passes for 24 yards. The Bills held on for the win, but only because the Chiefs made more mistakes.
Mahomes has been a good sport about the Chiefs’ struggles all season — refusing to blame anyone publicly for the lack of scoring or his league-high 24 drops.
But Mahomes exploded at the end of Sunday’s loss, slamming his helmet, screaming at an official and needing to be restrained by Joe Thuney after Kadarius Toney was called for offsides, negating a potential game-winning touchdown. Toney’s boneheaded play was reminiscent of the 2019 AFC Championship Game, when Dee Ford lined up offsides to negate a game-sealing interception against the Patriots.
No one should discount the Chiefs or Bills from making a Super Bowl run — not when Allen and Mahomes are the QBs. The Chiefs also have a top-five defense that can carry them in January. But neither looks like a contender right now — the Bills are the No. 11 seed in the AFC, and the Chiefs have lost three of four.
▪ The Bengals won their second straight game with backup quarterback Jake Browning to improve to 7-6. It was as good of a win as it gets — a 34-14 thumping of a well-coached Colts team, with the Bengals winning the second half, 20-0.
Head coach Zac Taylor called another great game for Browning, who completed 18 of 24 passes for 275 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. A lot of his yardage was gained on screen passes, with the Bengals hitting for 25, 45 and 54 yards, the last of which was a touchdown. Browning has now completed 79.3 percent of passes in his three starts (2-1), the highest since at least 1950.
Instead of falling apart when Joe Burrow went down with an injury, the Bengals are getting stronger and playing better around their backup QB. That’s the mark of a good roster and a good coach.
▪ You’ve got to feel good for Zach Wilson, who turned a 0-0 halftime game into a 30-6 blowout win over the Texans. Wilson was a pinata once again last week when a report emerged that he was hesitant to retake the starting job after a two-week benching. But he responded with one of the best games of his career, completing 27 of 36 passes for 301 yards, two touchdowns and no picks for a 117.9 rating.
Wilson will likely get a dose of reality next week at Miami. But give him credit — he has wins this year against the Bills, Broncos, Eagles and Texans.
▪ Hey, Panthers fans and owner David Tepper — it’s not the coaching, it’s not the offensive line and it’s not the weapons. Quarterback Bryce Young is simply overmatched against NFL competition.
Sunday’s 28-6 loss to the Saints was the ninth time this year the Panthers were held to one or fewer offensive touchdowns. Young finished 13 of 36 for 137 yards, missing wide-open receivers and taking several bad sacks, such as one that resulted in a 9-yard loss from the 1-yard line. The Panthers were 0 for 2 in the red zone, and 1 for 7 on fourth down.
Let’s not totally bury Young yet, but he is giving JaMarcus Russell (2007) and David Carr (2002) a run as the worst No. 1 draft picks of the modern NFL.
▪ The NFL’s concussion protocol doesn’t work if the professionals involved don’t follow the rules. The NFL touts having over 30 medical personnel at each game, including unaffiliated neurologists whose only job is to look for potential concussions. Yet they keep missing obvious ones.
The entire country watched T.J. Watt get smacked in the jaw on the first play of Thursday night’s game, and saw him switch to a tinted visor and take smelling salts on the sideline. It was no surprise to see Watt in the concussion protocol on Friday, but it is inexcusable that he played 52 of 57 snaps on Thursday and never received a concussion test. The NFL has not had any comment.
Another situation arose Sunday, when Colts QB Gardner Minshew took a shot to the head and was so obviously woozy getting to his feet that CBS announcer James Lofton said Minshew should probably get a concussion test. He didn’t, of course, and finished out the game. It’s inexcusable that these concussion spotters aren’t doing their job.
▪ The best sign for the Ravens in their 37-31 win over the Rams — Lamar Jackson hit three different receivers for at least 60 yards and a touchdown. That’s a great job of replacing Mark Andrews.
▪ While Deshaun Watson, out with a season-ending injury, watches Browns games from a luxury suite or doesn’t attend at all – which the team insists is the doctors’ call — Joe Burrow, also out with a season-ending injury, stands on the sideline with his teammates, and gives his luxury suite to Jake Browning’s family. The Bengals are lucky to have Burrow, and the Browns, well, aren’t so lucky with Watson.
▪ Joe Flacco has 565 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions in two starts since being signed off his couch, and led the Browns to a huge win over the Jaguars to improve to 8-5. Credit the Browns for finding a creative solution to their quarterback woes, but it also highlights how poorly they built their depth chart this year with P.J. Walker and Dorian Thompson-Robinson.
▪ The Raiders produced 201 yards and no points at home against the Vikings. Guess what, guys — Josh McDaniels wasn’t a bad coach, and Aidan O’Connell isn’t the answer. Jimmy Garoppolo surely could have managed 3 points.
▪ The AFC has six teams logjammed at 7-6. The Steelers and Colts hold the final two Wild Card spots thanks to their 5-4 conference record, followed by Houston, Denver, Cincinnati and Buffalo.
▪ The Ravens’ Tylan Wallace became the fourth player in NFL history to win a game with a walkoff punt return touchdown in overtime, taking one back 76 yards against the Rams. Two of the four have come this year, with the Jets’ Xavier Gibson also doing it in Week 1 against the Bills. The others were Patrick Peterson (2011) and Tamarick Vanover (1995).
▪ Sunday marked the first time since October 1988 that two games on one day went to halftime with a 0-0 score (Jets-Texans and Vikings-Raiders). The 3-0 Vikings win marked the fewest points scored in an indoor game in NFL history.
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com.